We interview Graham Turner, Social Media Lead of the Caravan and Motorhome Club, to find out.
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The Caravan and Motorhome Club has just celebrated its 113th birthday, and it’s collection of 2500 sites across the UK makes it an authority on celebrating local escapes. Graham Turner, the Club’s Social Media Manager, offers his personal perspective and shares marketing lessons, for both customers and brands wanting to learn how to use social media differently, but effectively, in these times.
How has the caravanning and motorhoming market changed this year?
“Caravanners and motorhomers are traditionally viewed as middle-aged and older, but what we’re seeing now are people from all demographics reconsidering their UK options. There’s an ongoing study by Global Web Index which is tracking consumer attitudes during the Covid-19 crisis, and the consistent message is their first big purchase post lockdown is to take a vacation, but specifically, vacations locally and more often. The rise of the staycation!
That’s good for National Tourist Boards, the outdoor leisure industry, and by the nature of our business, our Club. People are re-evaluating how they do things, behaviours and practically everything they come into contact with. Existing members and the ‘caravan curious’ considering joining the community are working through this too: re-evaluating what touring, caravanning, motorhoming, and campervanning mean to them. It’s myth-busting the stereotypes and breaking down the preconceived ideas of what people thought about those different things, and it’s now easier to see the benefits. For example, you’re travelling with your own possessions, so there’s less chance of cross-contamination.
There was a study by McKinsey & Company that put a positive spin on this time of re-evaluation: this is an opportunity for people to reassess the values, relationships, and the environment nearer to them. There’s a quote on the cause for optimism by Vivek Murphy in there that I like: “I think that this could be an extraordinary opportunity for us to step back and ask ourselves if we’re leading the kind of lives that we really want to lead. This is our chance to ask ourselves where people fit in our priority list and whether there’s a gap between our stated priorities and our lived priorities.”
Our community is acutely aware of the triggers and dangers of Covid-19, but there’s a huge desire to get out there now. One of the biggest areas of growth: campervanning. There’s a huge demand in the used market for campervans as they’re so accessible and practical, locally and internationally. It was a trend before 2020, but now it is really picking up momentum. If you’re an urbanite, you can park a campervan on the street, and still use it for the school run and holiday adventures. It’s a natural entry point into our community, and there are some really cool ones now which have street cred, unlike the 20-year-old Mazda Bongo that I have!
It looks inevitable that we are heading into a recession, and these multifunctional vehicles just make sense. The UK economy shrank by 20 percent in one month (April), and before that, the most significant loss was 2 percent, and some of the industries most affected were airlines and car manufacturing. This will permeate throughout society: it will mean less disposable income and job opportunities. People won’t want to get into airplanes that they’re sharing with other people, and to be fair, many probably won’t be able to afford it. And that’s why the safety of being in your own space is so appealing, and which will become more prevalent.”
Image courtsey of Tales of a Natural Spoonie
Are there any holidaying trends that you’ve noticed in 2020?
“There are a few general ones: the rise of the campervans, as described earlier. Younger families are trying out our kind of holidaying, and of course, holidaying closer to home. I’ve seen some behavioural changes too – people are reviewing their relationships with key workers, the businesses and places that they trust, and where they’ll visit. There’s been a rise in ethical tourism, where you aim to support your local community. It’s due to financial necessity, personal safety, and gaining a new perspective on the benefits of travelling locally. I believe we’ll see plenty of proudly-local advertising campaigns which will celebrate what we’ve got access to here in the UK. It will turn areas of concern into positives. Instead of getting onto a long plane flight to New Zealand, you can jump into a van and visit the highlands of Scotland, which are, in my opinion, even more beautiful. ( I still love NZ too!)
Our Club has over 2500 sites throughout the whole of the British isles, so we have options for everybody in every region. These holidays can be inclusive or reclusive depending on what you want, but all of them, due to existing rules on sites, have personal distancing already built in.
I think there’s going to be a real epiphany, and I’m talking from personal experience. Five years ago, I bought a campervan. Before then, I’d travel overseas for better weather, but now I appreciate what’s on our doorstep as I’ve been to some amazing places with that campervan. I used to have the same misconceptions as most people when I started, and would never have thought about a campervan or caravan or anything like that. But now that I have stayed in one, I love it, and think they’re brilliant. They’ve got all these nooks and crannies and gadgets – I love gadgets – and they need myth-busting, as they can be enjoyed by people of all ages.
It can also be more eco-conscious. Your carbon footprint is far less when going motor homing, campervanning, or touring than getting onto a jumbo jet and flying internationally. There’s also a new VW electric campervan called the ID Buzz. They look really cool in a Tron kind of way, and I have major campervan envy. Even Elon Musk is getting on the campervan trend, as the Tesla Truck now offers a camping configuration and accessories. We also have lots of initiatives on our sites, from recycling to using beehives and more. We’re trying to fit into the environment rather than concrete it all over.
We’ve also seen a multi-generational holidaying trend. Camping and caravanning have always been multi-generational in a sense, for example, grandparents in the campervan, parents in the motorhome or campervan, and the kids in the tent outside; you have all three generations in one place. Now glamping is helping to increase this by offering another opportunity for different generations to holiday together, especially now that the lockdown has kept them apart for so long. You can have a holiday with three distinct experiences on one site. It’s such an inclusive way of holidaying too.”
What advice would you give customers who want to plan a holiday now?
“You need a break. This isn’t a sales pitch from me, it’s the truth. We all deserve a holiday after all that’s happened. There are a variety of options open to all budgets and needs, and they’re much closer to home. Re-evaluate the stereotypes and misconceptions you have about camping, motor homing, and caravanning, and look at new things like glamping and see it as an adventure. Explore your own doorstep and get closer to nature – it’s good for your soul and wellbeing, and it’s fantastic for kids. It offers endorphins and a simpler way of life, it can help turn something positive out of all of this negativity, and we get to celebrate local communities. I don’t want to discredit any other ways of travelling or tourism, but personally, I feel safer hopping in the campervan than getting into a full jumbo jet and flying across the world.
The Club runs a scheme called Try Before You Buy where we’ve partnered with a few major manufacturers so you can try a caravan or a motorhome before buying one. There’s also been massive growth in hiring and the sharing economy, with brands like Camplify and Yescapa, where you can hire a campervan, caravan, or motorhome. We’ve seen interest ramping up in our glamping pods on our sites, and there are various degrees of glamping. We have a sub-brand called Experience Freedom, which helps introduce people to sites and locations, but for people who don’t have campervans and caravans.”
Image courtsey of The Travel Hack
Have you had to change the way you market your services?
“We ran three different social media virtual campaigns during lockdown: Big Little Tent Festival, Big Little Teatime Festival, Big Little National Festival. Even though the 55-plus age demographic are the fastest adopters of social media, it was still a challenge. However, social media has been a vital channel of communication: it has connected people, it has helped to keep people informed, and it has provided safe social interaction. It has come forward as a way of communicating that we would never have anticipated six months ago.
We have had to pivot what we did to supply a service. Our marketing strategy was to keep them engaged, to combat boredom, to help with their mental wellbeing, and to provide tips and simple advice for their quarantine life outside of camping, caravanning, and the outdoors. This is not marketing to sell future holidays; it’s marketing to take care of your community. They’re not just customers, they’re people who have a lifestyle based around your product.
When that lifestyle was taken away, and people weren’t able to see friends, family, or make an escape for the outdoors, then we felt we needed to fill that gap for our community members. And that’s why we created weekly virtual quizzes, festivals, and even dog shows for them. People loved sending in pictures of their dogs. It was taking real-world activities and digitizing them for your community. It needed to be easy to understand, but also still offer a novel experience in which they wanted to take part. Throughout all of this, we also provided lessons on how to take part on the digital platforms, like learning how to use Zoom and more. This also helped our older customers to stay in touch with their families. The Big Little Tent Festival was one of our events where we got families and kids to pitch tents in their back garden and then to share their experience live with friends and family on social media. Some of the grandparents and older family members joined from their campervans and caravans in their driveways and shared in the experience via Zoom and social media.
These three campaigns were a huge success for us and smashed our original goal metrics, it was something like a 1000% more engagement. It underlined how important it is to use social media to empathise with your community and bring them together. It helps you to look after your customers, and it shows that you care as a brand. People always remember a good deed. I think it will help brands come out of this stronger and with a more loyal customer base and a stronger brand affinity. Customers will also remember who taught them how to do something for the first time, so providing a service or meaningful advice is very powerful.”
What advice would you share with business owners in the tourism industry?
“It’s a tough one. We’re in such a rapidly-evolving situation, it changes from week to week, and it’s almost impossible to see what’s going to emerge at the other end. We need to understand that budgets might not be as big as they were and that people are going to be drastically more conscious about personal safety.
Customers are fearful right now, and they need to be nurtured. Your marketing needs to provide practical, reassuring messages that work towards that goal, and which answer their needs sensitively. It sounds really obvious, but from the research I’ve done, one of the most consistent results is that customers want a sense of normality and safety, and brands who have looked after their clients, and haven’t just stayed silent. Providing a sense of community is crucial, and in my line of work, social media is all about connections and community. Social media has been tested in this period, and in my opinion, it has done well. It has shined in the way it has connected like-minded people and has created communities for people to share safely, and to find an escape. Small businesses shouldn’t neglect their social media and community strategies right now, as this is when they can provide tremendous benefits. I believe customers will expect more from brands going forward – they don’t just want discounts or savings, they want brands to be more understanding and empathetic to their needs. We need to make customers feel valued and listen to their concerns. If you show interest in them, they will show interest back – that human trait of reciprocity is a powerful one. We’re living in strange times, and supporting your community is essential.”